Parental Kidnapping – Russia protects criminal child abductors that are on the run from the law


October 23 , 2014

Source: riavrn.ru

Sveltana Anpilova’s ex-husband wrote letters to the ombudsman.
On Thursday, October 16, Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation Pavel Astakhov came to Voronezh with a working visit.
Criminal Russian
After visiting the boarding school for gifted children “Repnoye”, the ombudsman met 37 year old Voronezh native Svetlana Anpilova and her 10 year old daughter Angelina. They fled from Norway from their husband and father and have been living in Voronezh for a year by now.
Pavel Astakhov noted that the girl speaks Russian better now than when they first met. Angelina told that she likes it better in Russia than in Norway. Svetlana shared the recent news – her ex-husband has sued her and demands money. The woman does not intend to pay, she’s going to defend her rights in court.
Pavel Astakhov said that Svetlana’ ex-husband has been writing letters to him as well asking to give him back his daughter.
– But I answered that our first priority is to defend the interests of our citizens, – the commissioner stressed.
At the end of the meeting, the ombudsman gave Algelina a pink teddy-bear had a photo taken of him with the rescued girl as a memento.
Svetlana Anpilova Abducted Child
Voronezh native Svetlana Anpilova and her daughter fled from Norway in August of 2013. Svetlana had lived together with her husband Frod Karlswig for 11 years, but in the last years of their marriage the married couple started having problems: according to the woman, her Norwegian husband started to drink, yell at his daughter and “maltreat her”, and soon he supposedly began to “beat the child”.
The mother and the daughter spent four days at the hotel of the Moscow airport “Sheremetyevo”: the child didn’t have an international passport to visit Russia – only a Norwegian birth certificate. Svetlana requested assistance from social activists; support was also provided by the members of children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov’s agency. On August 19 of 2013 Astakhov reported that
Angelina was admitted to Russian citizenship. The mother and her daughter moved to Svetlana’s parents to Voronezh.

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Parental Child Abduction – International Child Recovery Services


ABP World Group International Child Recovery Service

The goal of ABP World Group international child recovery services is to locate, negotiate and recover your missing child. We can dispatch personnel to most locations in the world; we specialize in locating missing children up to ages 18. Areas of expertise: Parental abduction, Missing children, Kidnappings, Runaway children and Counseling.

Unfortunately in this day and time parental kidnapping happens and we are here to help you trough this difficult period. We are aware parental child abduction can be difficult to resolve, but we use professional operatives with the skills and expertise to help find a resolution.

We also provide:

• Executive protection
• Close protection high or low profile
• Surveillance
• Investigation
• Security consulting
• Medical services
• Anti kidnap logistics and planning
• Abducted and missing children recovery
• Missing person investigations
• Panic room / Safe room construction
• Risk Management

For more information, visit our web site: www.abpworld.com

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UK-Russia child abduction still a problem but new law may help


August 1 , 2014

Source: spearswms.com

 

 

With more and more Russians heading to the UK, it’s important to take into account the newly amended Hague Convention on international child abduction. But the UK government still fails to do enough for aggrieved parents

 

 russia_mapThe wheels of international law turn slowly. On 1 October 2011, Russia became the 86th signatory of the Hague Convention of October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. However, it was only in June last year that the UK recognised Russia’s accession under its own domestic legislation.

With a significant Russian presence in the UK and with an increasing trend of Russian parents placing their children in UK schools, it is important for Russians either coming to the UK or returning to Russia to understand the effect of this recent development.

Research conducted by the Foreign Office suggests that half the UK population think that when a child is abducted it is the responsibility of the government of the country where the child lived to seek and return the child. The stark reality is that little government help is provided and it is up to the parent, at a time of great emotional distress, to instruct a lawyer and pursue recourse via a private application through the court system.

Pictured above: Gentlemen about to discuss the first Hague Convention in 1899, which regulated conduct during warfare.

The convention harmonises the resources from country to country to ensure that children who have been removed from one signatory country to another can be located, apprehended and returned to their parent or guardian in their country of habitual residence, to minimise distress and harm to the child.

Without the convention and the reciprocal legal framework it provides between countries, the return of children can prove more time consuming, costly and ultimately distressing for the child.

Article 3 of the convention states that a child is abducted where:

A) The child habitually resides a country that is a signatory to the convention. The actual nationality of the child or parents is unlikely to be significant in most abduction cases.

B) The child is removed abroad or is being detained there without the permission of their legal guardian in breach of that person’s custody rights.

C) The child is under sixteen years old.

The reality is that harmonising international law is seldom straightforward and the convention is no different. One such difficulty is that the implementation of the convention from state to state can differ in significant ways. Indeed, Hague can conflict with domestic laws.

UK-geo-stub

For example, in Russia, children can be taken abroad by one parent without written permission from the other but that would be considered a crime in many signatory countries of the convention.

Thus a paradox may be created where a child could be taken from Russia to England by one parent without the consent of the other, but as Russia is now a signatory to the convention, a child who is habitually resident in England but who is taken without consent to Russia would be required to be returned by the Russian authorities to the UK.

It is uncontroversial to say that some signatories are more willing to deploy resources to a child abduction incident that others. Russia, has not fared particularly well in this regard historically.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights decreed that Russia had breached a mother’s human rights under Article 8 (which includes a right for a parent to have measures taken by national authorities to reunite them with their children from whom they have been separated) because it took the authorities three years to reunite the boy with his mother.

Conversely, the first British/Russian convention case was settled in November last year; the Russian courts ordered the return of five- and seven-year old boys to their habitual residence in England after they were taken on holiday to Russia by their Russian father, who then failed to return with them.

The complexities that can arise in child abduction cases, combined with public ignorance of the law regarding the removal of children from a country, and the increasing international demography of the UK, particularly London, makes for a combustible mix of factors.

It is stating the obvious to say that foresight is preferable to an international child abduction battle which can and probably will be emotionally distressing and possibly damaging for the child or children involved. Communication between parents, possibly with legal assistance to clarify parental rights, will be effective to prevent a situation arising where the convention needs to be invoked.

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Parental Child Abduction 2014. We can recover your abducted child


January 1 , 2014

Tragically International Child Abduction has reached global epidemic proportions.  According to leading experts the increase in inter-racial marriages and relationships  will, in the future, lead to a significant rise in the number of children born to parents of different nationalities 

“It is a great misconception that a child abducted by a parent is a safe child” – Martin Waage, ABP World Group Ltd.

As is true for all relationships, a statistically significant number of these marriages or partnerships will also end in divorce. All too often, following the breakup of a marriage, one of the parents will abduct a child of that relationship against the wishes of the other parent,  frequently removing them to a country where the child has probably never lived. This is called “International Parental Child Abduction”.

Although there are various civil remedies available to parents of abducted children, the challenges they face are enormous, including first and foremost, locating  the child.

Unfortunately for the majority of targeted parents, the financial burden involved in recovery and litigation falls upon their shoulders. With tens of thousands of children abducted by parents each year, the reality is that too many of these children never come home.  ABP World Group is dedicated to assisting those parents who need help in locating, rescuing, and returning  their abducted child home safely.

Statement from a US client:

“After all my years of experience as Worldwide Medical Director for the worlds largest medical assistance company, I found only ABP World capable of providing the unique service of non-violent recovery of a abducted child. It is very difficult to find a company like ABP World that can provide the experience, honesty, integrity, and assets to actually recover an abducted child safely and at a reasonable cost. I hold ABP World in highest regard and recommend them whole heartedly. The world is simply a better place because of the work they do.”

Our intelligence and investigative capabilities combined with our ability to dispatch personnel to most locations in the world offer a safe and strategic solution to protecting what is most important to you, your child.

Unfortunately in this present climate parental kidnapping occurs all too frequently and we are here to help you through this extremely traumatic period.

We are aware that parental child abduction can be difficult to resolve, but through the use of professional operatives with the skills and expertise necessary to find a resolution. We are here to help you.

ABP World Group’s successful recovery and re-unification strategies rely on the use of all the means available  including, but not limited to:

Electronic Forensic Foot printing Investigations

. Intelligence Gathering

. Information Specialists/Skip Tracing

. Evidence Procurement

. Interview/Evaluation

. Surveillance Special Ops

. Non-Combatant Evacuation Ops

. Domestic Support

. International Operations

. Maritime/Land/Air transport

Danish Client:
“I have received assistance from ABP World Group in bringing my kidnapped child back home. The situation demanded alternative solutions in order to bring my child safely home, as the country where my child was kidnapped to, did not actively participate in helping solving the kidnapping. In this regard ABP World Group proved to be invaluable help. They provided the necessary experience in dealing with these matters and throughout the planning and execution always kept calm and seemed prepared for everything. It was my impression that the safety of my child and myself was always the top priority, and they always made sure to take any necessary precautions through detailed planning rather than pursuing a quick solution.

I can definitively recommend getting assistance from ABP World Group to anyone else in the same situation”

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Worldwide 24/7 Emergency Number: +34 633 374 629

 

New FCO figures show parental child abduction cases on the rise


December 17 , 2013

Source: www.gov.uk

The number of parental child abduction and custody cases has more than doubled over the last decade *, with almost two children being abducted abroad each day, according to new figures released today by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and charity, Reunite.

baby-child-christmas-little-boy-Favim.com-248677

The FCO has launched a hard-hitting film, Caught in the middle, to highlight the issues and encourage parents to think of the consequences before doing something that could do lasting damage to the children and families involved.

In 2003/04 the FCO was involved in 272 new parental child abduction and international custody cases. In 2012/13 that figure rose to 580, the second highest figure ever recorded.

This year alone**, Reunite – a charity that provides advice and support to parents involved in parental child abduction cases – has dealt with 447 new cases involving 616 children. It reported a particular spike in cases after Christmas 2012 and again in September this year following the summer holidays.

Mark Simmonds, Minister for Consular Affairs, said:

I was very concerned to see an increase in child abduction cases. Parental child abduction has a devastating emotional impact on the child as well as the taking parent and the parent left behind. It can do lasting damage to a child’s relationship with both parents and their happiness. These are often distressing cases for everyone involved and there are no easy fixes, but our staff around the world work hard to assist those parents left behind.

We are launching this awareness campaign in the lead up to Christmas to try to prevent parents from doing something that would cause significant distress to themselves, their family and most importantly to the child. We also encourage parents to look for warning signs that their partner may be considering this. Once children are taken overseas it can be extremely difficult to secure their return to the UK. Many parents are not aware that by abducting their child, they may be committing a crime.

Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of Reunite, said:

Parental child abduction is not faith or country specific – we see cases involving a range of countries from France and Poland to Thailand, Pakistan and Australia. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families, especially if the relationship between parents has broken down. However, there is help available if you think that your partner may be considering abducting your children. Last year we helped to prevent 412 cases involving 586 children which demonstrates something can be done to prevent it from happening to you.

Parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve, with significant impact on the child or children involved. There is a very real possibility that the child may never be returned. Even when cases are resolved it can take up to 10 years, with a devastating impact on the child, parents and families involved.

There is no typical ‘abducting parent’ – although abductions are more likely to take place where families have links to more than one country and, contrary to popular opinion, it is more likely to be the mother who abducts than the father (approximately 70% of abducting parents are mothers).

It is also much harder to return a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent. The table below illustrates the most common Hague and non-Hague countries that children are abducted to.

christmas-chronic-ill-child

As well as emotional distress, both parents may often face severe financial difficulties as they fight for custody of their child through foreign courts. Legal costs overseas and in the UK may continue to mount up for parents, who must bear responsibility for the cost of any legal action taken, even after the child is returned to this country.

The FCO is working with Mumsnet and the charity, Families Need Fathers (FNF) to answer questions parents might have about this issue via their web pages Families Need Fathers and Mumsnet.

Top 10 Hague countries children have been abducted to*** Number of cases 2012/13 Top 10 countries children have been abducted to where Hague returns aren’t available Number of cases 2012/13
USA 32 Pakistan 35
Poland 29 Thailand 17
Ireland 28 India 16
Germany 18 Japan 11
France 12 Morocco 10
Canada 11 Egypt 8
South Africa 10 United Arab Emirates 8
Spain 10 Philippines 7
Australia 9 Oman 5
Turkey 8 Afghanistan 5

Where to go for help

There are lots of free sources of advice and support to help parents through difficult periods, including if you think your child is at risk of being abducted or has already been taken. You can call the Reunite helpline on 01162 556 234. You can also call social services and speak to a specialist solicitor. Counselling and support is available through Relate and the Samaritans.

Alternatively, you can contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 020 7008 1500, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, visit our Child Abduction page for more information or read our advice leaflet.

You can also email childabduction@fco.gov.uk

Further information

For further information or to arrange media interviews please contact: 0207 478 7840

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multi-lateral international treaty, the aim of which is the return of a child who has been wrongfully removed or wrongfully retained away from the country where he or she normally lives, so that issues of residence (which parent a child should live with), relocation (which country a child should live in) and contact (access) can be decided by the courts of that country. All cases that come under the Hague Convention are dealt with by one of the three Central Authorities in the UK (the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit covers England and Wales and there are two separate bodies for Scotland and Northern Ireland). To find out which countries are part of this Convention, visit the HccH website

Visit our Child Abduction page for further information on parental child abduction, or the Reunite website

*Taken from 2003-2013 data held by the FCO. The FCO dealt with 580 new child abduction and custody cases in 2012/13, a 113% increase on the 272 new child abduction and custody cases it dealt with in 2003/04

**Reunite figures, January 2013 – October 2013

***Based on figures provided by the 1980 Hague Central Authority for England and Wales, Scottish 1980 Hague Central Authority and the 1980 Hague Central Authority in Northern Ireland.

Also read: Christmas holiday is the high season for International parental child kidnapping

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Russian court rules ‘abducted’ children to return to UK


November 30, 2013

Source: BBC

A north London mother has won a landmark ruling to get her children back from Russia after they were abducted by their father. Rachael Neustadt, from Hendon, says Ilya Neustadt took their two sons on holiday in December but never returned.

Abducted_Russia

Moscow City Court ruled that Daniel and Jonathan had been illegally kept in Russia in breach of a UK High Court order. Mrs Neustadt said she was delighted by the ruling.

Missing persons

The court said that five-year-old Jonathan and seven-year-old Daniel should be flown back to London. Mrs Neustadt, a former teacher from the US, claims that Mr Neustadt, who was a lecturer at London Metropolitan University, ignored repeated requests from judges in England to return their sons. Interpol also issued missing persons notices for the boys.

The case is the first to successfully use the 1996 Hague Convention on child abduction in England and Russia, which Russia ratified in June and the UK signed last year.

In September, the Russian court told Mr Neustadt to return the two children. He appealed against the decision and lost on Wednesday. Mrs Neustadt said she had campaigned for the last 11 months to bring her sons home.

“I think that day my heart started racing and it hasn’t stopped,” she said.

Every day I think what can I do to bring them back.”

Rachael Neustadt

“Every day I think what can I do to bring them back.

“They liked everything and there’s nothing that tells me that why just because they’ve been given a passport that they are Russians that belong in Russia.”

The boys’ maternal grandmother, Merry Rapp, has been helping care for the youngest son two-year-old Meir, while Mrs Neustadt fights her legal battle.

“It is very confusing for them,” she said.

“They have been told so much that is totally wrong. For example, that your mother no longer loves you. How do you say that and not damage a child? It’s not right.”

‘Hidden problem’

The charity Reunite International, which supports parents, said child abduction was a hidden problem. The group said that its helpline received 8,112 calls last year and the numbers were increasing.

Joanne Orton, the advice line co-ordinator, said: “We had 506 new parental abduction cases reported to us which involved 728 children. We also had 412 new prevention cases involving a further 586 children.

“Travel is easier and cheaper than ever leading to more mixed nationality partnerships than ever.

“Where a relationship has formed with one or both parents originating from a different country to the one they have settled in, if that relationship then breaks down, very often one parent will want to return to the comfort of their family in their native country.”

She added that 70% of abductions were carried out by the mother.

“The saddest fact is, that when a child is abducted whilst both parents suffer as a result, ultimately the one person that suffers the most is the child,” she said.

Mr Neustadt has said he may appeal against the latest ruling.

He said: “We will finally reach some amicable solution based on compromises and not on possible actions that would be completely against the children’s best interests.”

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My partner abducted my child: the parents left behind


September 23 September 2013

Source: Theguardian.com

Last year alone, more than 500 children were abducted from the UK by one of their parents. We speak to some of the mothers and fathers left behind

Louise Monaghan with daughter May in Cyprus

 

Louise Monaghan with her daughter, May, in Cyprus: ‘We’ll change our names, move. If you want to get lost, you can.’ Photograph: Eirini Vourloumis for the Guardian

When Louise Monaghan rang her former husband’s phone, her worst fears were confirmed: it went straight to an international ring tone. He had fled the country with their six-year-old daughter, May. The police in Cyprus, where Louise lived, didn’t seem overly interested; it was just another domestic that would sort itself out. Nor did the government back home in Ireland: no, they couldn’t arrange an emergency passport for May without her father’s signature. Louise protested that this was the man who had absconded with her daughter. Sorry, she was told, rules are rules.

She had been divorced from Mostafa for less than a year. During their seven-year relationship, he regularly beat her; on one occasion, when he punched her unconscious, he thought he had killed her. Eventually, she found the courage to press charges, and then begged the judge for leniency; Mostafa had told her he would have her and May killed if he went to prison. He was given a suspended sentence, and his access to May continued, three days a week, three hours a day. Louise says May hated her time with him. She had panic attacks and developed trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out your own hair. “She had a big bald spot.”

After they divorced, he stalked Louise, hiding in bushes beneath her apartment, following her in his car, terrifying her. She warned her daughter as gently as she could. She never used the word kidnap, nor did she suggest that May’s father was a bad man, but she did say there was one thing her father wasn’t allowed to do. “I told her time and time again, if your father ever takes you to an airport or a ferry, please scream and shout and go to the nearest adult and say, can you please call my mama? She knew my number off by heart. We practised it all the time. So when he took her, I thought, please God, do what I said.”

The phone continued to ring out. Eventually, Mostafa answered and calmly told her they were about to cross the border into war-torn Syria, where he was from. “I said, ‘Do you have May?’ and he said, ‘Of course I have May. We’re going to live in Syria.’ I said, ‘Can I speak to her?’ When she came on the phone, she was so distraught I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. I said, ‘May, speak slowly, where have you been?’ And she said, ‘In a big shopping mall, Mummy.’ I said, ‘May, were there planes there?’ And she started crying and saying, ‘Yes, Mama.'”

The story that followed is the stuff of thrillers. Indeed, Louise’s book,Stolen: Escape From Syria, is being made into a film. But there is nothing thrilling about the way she recounts it. She crossed a heavily guarded Syrian border, fooled Mostafa into thinking she still loved him, was beaten, starved and held captive by him, betrayed by the people-smugglers she had paid to rescue them, and then escaped with her daughter across the mountains into Lebanon through bomb attacks and sniper fire.

Two years on, Louise is back living in Cyprus. May is at school and life is returning to a kind of normality. We meet in Dublin, at her sister Mandy’s home. May is a pretty eight-year-old with long, dark hair and an uncertain smile. I look at her and find it hard to comprehend what she has been through. Perhaps the only giveaway is her silence.

Louise is undergoing intense psychotherapy. She talks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, how introverted she became, the death of her mother in a car crash, her first marriage to a man who was more friend than lover. She is trying to put things into context, she says, explaining how she ended up with a man like Mostafa.

In her late 20s, she left Ireland for Cyprus and became a successful travel sales consultant, before setting up a hair salon. She drove two cars, had a good income and a great circle of friends. Then she met Mostafa. “I don’t like to say his name,” she says quietly. She seems embarrassed, ashamed even, that she fell in love with him.

“He was a good-looking guy, let’s be honest about it,” Mandy says as her sister struggles. “He came over from Cyprus to Ireland, to the local pub, and you should have seen the carry-on from my friends.”

“Even after the kidnapping, friends said to me, ‘It’s such a shame, because he was a gorgeous-looking man,'” Louise says.

From the start Mostafa was controlling, but she told herself she was lucky to have a man who cared for her so passionately. Yes, she was aware that they came from very different cultures – she was Irish Catholic, he was Syrian Sunni Muslim – but that wasn’t going to get in the way of love. “Then I married him and I became his property.”

After the abduction, Mandy flew to Cyprus to be with Louise and work out a rescue plan. They flew to southern Turkey and drove to Hatay, a province bordering Syria, where Louise put on her hijab and left Mandy. On 12 September 2011, five days after Mostafa had abducted May, she walked into Syria, passing thousands of people fleeing in the opposite direction. When Louise was reunited with May, she learned her daughter had been beaten on to the plane. “On her arms, her thighs. She still had bruises where he grabbed her arms.”

Louise and May spent five weeks in Syria. Often, Mostafa would leave her locked in a dark room and take May with him. “I presume it was to see his parents. I think he did it to torture me, to show me he was the boss. I thought I’d never see her again.”

She lost a stone. Mandy says that when they came back to Ireland, May looked even worse than her mother. “She had these terrible black rings under her eyes.” And now? “She doesn’t like talking about it. She very rarely mentions it. She might twitch at something.” Despite this, Louise says May told her therapist she still loves her father.

“You know what?” Mandy says, out of nowhere. “I haven’t read the book.” She’s happily buttering a piece of toast in the kitchen, and the next second is in floods of tears. “It’s just too horrific. I hate to think they went through all that.” Now Louise is crying, too.

A month after Louise and May returned home, Mostafa was apprehended trying to escape Syria over the Turkish border. He was jailed for two weeks and was due to be extradited to Cyprus on charges of abduction. But Syria was mid-collapse, and he was let go. There is currently an international warrant for his arrest.

It is almost impossible to get accurate statistics on parental child abduction. Last year, Foreign and Commonwealth Office statisticsrevealed that there had been an 88% increase in the number of parental child abduction cases it had dealt with in less than a decade – from 272 in 2003/4 to 512 in 2011/12. These figures almost certainly understate the problem because they are based only on official police investigations. Although the common perception is that more men than women abduct children, in 2011 Reunite, a charity that supports victims of international parental child abduction, found that 70% of parental abductions in the UK were by women, most of whom had followed their partner to the UK and returned home when the relationship soured.

Neil Winnington

 

Neil Winnington: ‘All I can do is leave a trail for her online – films, songs, blogs, poems – and hope she follows it.’ Photograph: Shaw + Shaw for the Guardian

If you look on Myspace, there is a beautiful video of a red-haired two-year-old at the seaside, eating ice-cream, bouncing on a trampoline, making sandcastles with her father. The film was made in May 2008, two months before Neil Winnington’s daughter Emily was taken to Russia by her mother. He was assured they would return to Wrexham after the holiday, but he didn’t believe her. After all, Neil claims, she had previously threatened to take Emily back to Russia for good, saying that if he didn’t give her half his earnings, she would never allow him to visit. “She had said she’d go to the Russian courts and have my name removed from the birth certificate. Emily wouldn’t even know she had a British father.”

Neil doesn’t have a clue what Emily looks like today, or where she’s living: “25 September is five years to the day since I saw her.” He assumes she wouldn’t recognise him. All he can do, he says, is leave a trail for her online, in the form of films, songs, blogs, poems and photos, and hope that one days she follows it.

As with most cases of abduction, Neil’s story is one-sided. His former wife (he doesn’t say her name; she is “Emily’s mother”) is unavailable for comment because she has disappeared; he assumes they are both still in Russia, but doesn’t know. The British government hasn’t been much help either, he says: “Three years ago, the Christmas and birthday presents all started coming back with ‘incorrect address’ marked on them. When the cutbacks started to bite at the Foreign Office, any attempt to contact Emily was stopped. When they did send somebody for a consular visit, Emily’s mum refused to let them even take photographs for me.”

Although Russia has just signed up to the 1996 Hague convention, which states that abducted children should be returned to their habitual country of residence, it will consider only retrospective cases that occurred within the previous year. “So the estimated 150 children, including Emily, who were abducted to Russia prior to that will get no help,” Neil says. He doesn’t know who, or where, to turn to now.

Neil says it’s ironic, really. He has travelled all over the world as a TV producer, but met Emily’s mother in Birkenhead, just a few miles from his parents’ home. She returned to Russia to give birth to Emily, and that’s when things started to go wrong. “I think she had postnatal depression and her mother started sowing seeds of doubt.” The marriage fell apart when he discovered she had been having an affair.

After Emily was taken, Neil stopped working. He got into £20,000-worth of debt, lost his home and car, and stopped going out. “I had a complete nervous breakdown. To be honest, I’ve just learned to control it. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Even if Emily came back tomorrow… I’ve spoken to other parents: they expect their children to be snatched again. It never, ever leaves you.” His speech is broken. “I was a recluse for two years. I couldn’t face seeing children. If a child cries – even to this day, in a supermarket – it brings me to tears.”

Like the other parents I speak to, Neil knows his abduction statistics by heart. “In 2011, Reunite received calls about 512 different cases, involving 700-plus children. And the numbers are rising each year. It was 300 the year Emily was abducted.”

Why is the number rising? “If I’m blunt about it, the growing media and political antipathy towards foreigners is driving a lot of people apart. It gave Emily’s mother ammunition to say they weren’t wanted here.” Was there any truth in that? “There are always people who’ll look for a reason.”

He says he is in a slightly better state now. He has just started a new job, is campaigning for Reunite, and has convinced himself that one day Emily will turn up on his doorstep.

Has he been in a relationship? “I’m staying single for the rest of my life,” he says forcefully. “It would be a betrayal of Emily. If she came back and found me with another family, I don’t think I could forgive myself.” But he could have another family and still love her? “No, because she is what I always wanted. If I’d had another family, it would have meant that I’d stopped fighting.”

Catherine Meyer

 

Catherine Meyer: ‘My boys are always small in my dreams. They’re with me and either taken away or in danger.’ Photograph: Lydia Goldblatt for the Guardian

On the surface, Catherine Meyer says life couldn’t be better. She is married to a wonderful man (Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to Germany and Washington), she has two grown-up boys of whom she is hugely proud and a successful career in the City behind her – and yet the past still haunts her.

It is 19 years since her two sons, Alexander and Constantin, then nine and seven, were taken by her former husband. Strictly speaking, they were not abducted: they were wrongfully retained. The boys had gone to visit their father in Germany, and he refused to let them return.

We meet at Catherine’s beautiful London town house, which is currently being overhauled; the one room that is operational serves as the office from which she runs Pact, a charity she set up to help victims of abduction. Like Louise Monaghan, she has written a book about her experience, called They Are My Children, Too. Left-behind parents often feel the need to chronicle their experience, partly for themselves and partly in the hope that their children will be able to make sense of it one day.

A slight, elegant woman, Catherine looks both much younger, and occasionally older, than her 60 years. She is in tears before her first sentence is out. Half-French, half-Russian, she grew up largely in Britain, and spent time in America and Africa. She was 29 and one of only three women working on London’s Stock Exchange when she went on a road trip to visit her sister in the south of France. At a service station, a man smiled at her. Then she saw him at another service station, and it turned out they were visiting the same place. “He was very good-looking, German, blond, blue eyes. He was a doctor, did something useful. I thought, wow!”

They moved to London and married. When he became homesick, she agreed to move to Germany for two years. They lived with his mother in the small town of Verden, near Bremen. Two years became seven, and Catherine decided she’d had enough. She returned to London in 1993, where she was awarded custody of the boys; the agreement was that they would spend the school holidays with their father, which is how it worked out, until the following year, when she received a 21-page letter from him. “He said, ‘It’s not me, it’s the children, they are begging to stay with me. I’m not doing this against you, I’m doing this to be nice to the children.’ He was already preparing his legal case. And the whole world crashes.”

As with Louise, every date is imprinted on Catherine’s mind. “I said, ‘If you don’t send them back on 28 August, I will consider this wrongful retention under article 3 of the Hague convention.'” Alexander and Constantin were made wards of court, and an order was made for them to return to the UK; but the local German court successfully argued that the children were victims of racism in Britain, and that the “children have decisively opposed such return”. Over the next 10 years, Catherine saw her children half a dozen times, for a few hours on each occasion; in all, she says, she spent 24 hours with them. She dedicated her life to their return. She spent more than £200,000 on lawyers, and lost everything. She explored every avenue, analysed 22 other cases of abduction in Germany, examined every inconsistency in the legal arguments. In 1997, four years after losing her children, she lobbied Christopher Meyer, then ambassador to Germany, for help. “He always says, ‘This poor woman came in to try to get some help, and I knew I couldn’t help her. So I did the second best thing and married her.'” She smiles.

She believes the boys became convinced that she had abandoned them. One day she took a plane to Germany and waited outside their school. When they saw her, they ran in the opposite direction and got into a car. “The first time I saw Alexander, at the second court hearing, he greeted me by hitting me.” She aims a punch at her own stomach to illustrate.

How did this change her? “I lost my job and by now I was weighing 45 kilos. I wasn’t eating and I couldn’t sleep because my hip bones were so painful, sticking out.” She looks into her coffee, then directly at me. “I used to be quite amusing, actually, when I was young. Now I cannot stay still – I have to be busy. That’s a sign I see in a lot of parents. They become workaholics, or depressives. I have two people who committed suicide, and one ended up in the loony bin. You can feel sorry for yourself and go deeper and deeper into yourself. Or you can work and work.”

The most painful loss, she says, was physical. “Touching them. Feeling them. I constantly had nightmares. Still have them. They are always small in dreams, they’re with me in London, and they’re either being taken away or they’re in danger.”

How did she win her case? She didn’t, she says: “There was an angel.” A man living near her boys in Germany heard her story and wrote to her. He got in touch with Alexander, told him his mother still loved him and was desperate to see him. He passed on her address. Aged 19, Alexander visited his mother in London for the first time in 10 years. Constantin followed soon after. “I was incredibly nervous. How will they react? What will they think of me? Shall I speak French, shall I speak English? We sat on the tube, looking at each other rather than saying anything.”

Alexander is now 28 and a maths PhD student in Berlin. Constantin is 26 and studying to be a doctor in Hamburg. They visit regularly. Do the boys consider they were abducted? “We don’t talk about this… Possibly not. They are boys, and boys tend to look forward rather than back.” Does she think they will want to talk about it? “Yes. With Alexander it has come up. We’ve had some conversations and he’s said he doesn’t really want to go there, but maybe one day he will.”

Alexander was nine when he was taken, just old enough for his mother to start to see who he might grow into. Constantin was still a baby in her eyes. “He was a gorgeous little blond boy when he left, and suddenly he’s a young man with hair on his arms. It’s difficult. You’ve missed 10 years of your child growing up, very formative years. We’re rebuilding.”

She attributes the dramatic increase in the number of parental abductions to an increase in international marriages, a greater number of divorces and the fact that today’s family courts are less clear cut when it comes to child custody; in the past, it was assumed they would stay with their mother. The biggest problem, she says, is lawyers with a financial interest in prolonging divorce conflict, and parents who think of their children as possessions. “The trouble is, parents think they have rights to their children. You produce them, they didn’t ask to be in the world, the only thing you do have is responsibility to raise them properly and give them the love they need.”

I ask if she is capable of feeling joy these days. “Seeing my children is wonderful. Christopher says my face lights up when I see them.” She pauses. “I used to say I’d like to just drill a hole in my head and take some of this stuff out, this anxiety, this hyperness.” She still feels that? “Oh, yes.”

Rachel Neustadt

 

Rachel Neustadt: ‘They don’t remember English any more. My son couldn’t remember how to say goodnight.’ Photograph: Lydia Goldblatt for the Guardian

Rachel Neustadt says she’s lucky. Then again, luck is relative. Nine months ago, her ex-husband abducted her two oldest boys, Daniel Jakob, seven, and Jonathan, five. We meet in early September, a few days before she is due to fly to Russia to fight in court for their return.

Six months after the boys were taken, in June 2013, Russia signed up to the 1996 Hague convention. The earlier 1980 convention had ruled that countries had to individually ratify with each other for a child to be returned to the country from which they were taken, but the 1996 model states that countries need only to have signed up for it to be applied. The old convention would not have helped Rachel; the new one should see her children return. Hers will be a test case, the first to use the new legislation for an abduction from the UK to Russia.

Rachel and Ilya met at a wedding in Vienna. They had much in common: both were orthodox Jews, with Belarusian family; both had been brought up in a number of countries and were economists. He was studying for a PhD, she was working for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. They married, had two boys and raised them bilingual, speaking English (she is American) and Russian. They married in Germany, lived in Switzerland, then moved to England. Over time, she says, Ilya became unreasonable and abusive. In what way? “Almost every way.”

In 2011, after eight years of marriage, Rachel decided enough was enough. She was pregnant with their third child when she filed for divorce. She says she tried to make the split as amicable as possible. Legally, she didn’t have to allow him to take the boys on holiday, but she wanted to normalise the relationship. He suggested taking the boys to see his brother in Russia. She knows that should have rung an alarm bell: he had not been back to Russia for two decades. He then suggested getting the boys a Russian passport because it was cheaper than a visa, and that meant they would be able to visit their cousins every year. “I went to the embassy and signed all the papers to get them Russian passports.” She shakes her head in disbelief. She gave the trip her blessing, and the boys never came back.

This is the most common circumstance in which children are abducted by a parent, during contact time. Astonishingly, Rachel says, if the left-behind parent has given the other parent permission to take a child on holiday, it is not even a crime; “wrongful retention” is a civil offence. As with most male abductors, Ilya has been helped by his mother; she has moved from Germany to Russia to help bring up the boys.

Why did he take them? “He said they’re his kids, he brought them to England, he can take them whenever he wants.”

He didn’t see the boys as their children? “Well, he’s always seen them as his possessions. He doesn’t really see them as humans with rights and feelings. He said we live in Russia now, and we don’t need anything else. The kids don’t need a mother, they don’t need you. I’m their mother and their father. He’s tried to coax me into bringing our third son to Russia to see his brothers, so he can abduct him, too.”

At first, Rachel says, Ilya allowed her a weekly phone call, but he would keep her waiting for hours, and then the calls tailed off. If she said anything personal or loving to the boys, the line would go dead. The last time she spoke to them, she felt they were no longer used to regular conversation. “They’ve lost a lot of their ability to communicate. They don’t remember English any more. Their father said to Jonathan, ‘Say goodnight to your mum in English’ and he couldn’t even remember how to say the words.”

The walls of her north London home are covered with mementoes of the boys – a crayoned drawing with the words “I like crackers” by Jonathan, pictures of the union and Israeli flags, a certificate Daniel Jakob won for a spelling competition, photographs of them dressed up as sword-wielding Normans.

Rachel is composed until I ask what such an experience does to a parent. She swallows between half-sentences and takes deep breaths. “Most mothers, when they put their kids to bed and they see them sleeping, they hover for a moment. Before you walk out of the room for the night, you tend to wait, because you know you’re going to miss them until morning. So it’s that feeling multiplied by 24 hours a day. I’m just waiting…” She is barely audible now. “It’s horrific.” Every parent I meet cries in the same way: mid-conversation, without warning, silently, uncontrollably.

The days are worse than the nights, Rachel says. “That’s when you’re constantly cleaning chins and tying shoes and doing homework. All the stuff you do every second with kids.” But she says the overwhelming feeling is not one of missing the boys: it is of panic that they might be damaged, and horror that she has failed to protect them.

She sleeps four hours a night, if she’s lucky, between 3am and 7am. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling it a night when I know if I did a couple more things I might be more successful in bringing them home.” How does she get through the days? “I’m very busy working for them. I don’t have much time. I try not to distract myself with emotions, because I have a job to do. Paperwork to file, phone calls to make. It is a full-time job. If people ask me, I say I’m a full-time student of international abduction law.” She allows herself a rare smile.

Has this changed her as a person? “Yes. In many ways, actually. My ex was unreasonable in so many ways, and I thought that if I just kept being reasonable, he’d come round. Now I think what I did was naive. I guess, in an abusive relationship, it’s called enabling behaviour. Ultimately, I realised it’s up to me to defend the interests of the family and not allow someone like him to destroy us.”

I ask if I can see the boys’ bedroom. “Sure,” she says. Her mother, who has come over from America to support her, is in there playing with her baby son, Meyer, and a toy bus. There is a double bed and a single bed. Rachel points to the double. “Daniel Jakob likes this bed because he rolls about in his sleep.”

“Yes, he does!’ his grandma says, laughing.

What have the past nine months been like for her, the boys’ grandmother? Her face collapses and tears roll down her cheeks; she ushers my tape recorder away.

We play with the bus, Rachel sings London Bridge to Meyer and calm is restored. Well, I say, hopefully the boys will be back soon. Rachel’s mother blinks back her tears. “They will be… they will be!” she says.

Back in Dublin, Louise Monaghan says that, while it is wonderful to have May back, the family are not yet at peace. After their escape, Mostafa rang her sister Mandy and promised he would track down Louise and May.

“Even now, not knowing where he is, you’re still living in danger, still sleeping with one eye open,” Mandy says.

Where do they think he is?

Mandy: “Hopefully he’s died. I know that’s not nice.”

Louise: “In my heart, I think he got out. He has family who love him in Dubai and Qatar.”

How does she feel when Mandy says she hopes he’s dead? “We’ve had that discussion. I have mixed feelings. My overriding feeling is I want peace. When I heard that he had been arrested and was being flown back to Cyprus, my biggest fear was that, if he was languishing in a Cypriot prison, I would have to get out of here because he would organise for me to be killed. I have no doubt about that.”

The family are planning a fresh start. Louise and May do not believe they are safe in Cyprus, nor Mandy and her family in Ireland. They will move together to a new country, as yet undecided. “New identity,” Louise says. “Change our appearance, change our names, move somewhere else, whatever. If you want to get lost, you can get lost.”

Just before going to press, I receive an email from Rachel Neustadt in Russia. While Ilya has argued in court that the boys are frightened of London and do not want to live with their mother, the court has ruled that they should be returned to the UK: a landmark decision. Ilya has 15 days to appeal. Rachel’s relief is palpable, as is her fear. “I wish I could hold my sons in my arms right now, but it is still unclear how to gain access to them. Today is Daniel Jakob’s half-birthday – he’s seven and a half. We have not reached the end of this nightmare, but today’s decision was crucial. I have no idea, nor do I want to imagine, how much longer this might take. I suspect we have a difficult road ahead of us.”

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